Saturday, 27 February 2010

Mind, Body and Identity: three slippery categories

1. Individuality/personality – what makes me uniquely me?

2. Identity position – group affiliation – sex, race, social status. Biological or social constructions?

Up to now utopias have seemed often to focus on this second type of identity - through their eagerness to identify, define, classify and even build citizens. But for a different way of thinking about utopias as machines for reimagining our identity see, for example, Jameson on 'Morus: the Generic Window', or Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self-fashioning for discussion of the ways in which More creates Utopia to go beyond humanist dialectic to expose and explore his own conscience and consciousness. Or think about Gulliver on his travels?

3. Integrity – spatiotemporal continuity. I am the same person that I was a few moments ago. The body is our identity, it gives shape to (informs) the story of how we change.

The historian Caroline Walker Bynum explores these three questions of identity in the last of four essays which is also widely available on the internet (Shape and Story). How far can humans change and remain human? She explores the continuity between mind and body from Ovid through the middle ages to Angela Carter......“monsters and hybrids … stuck together from our own sense of the incompatibility of aspiration and situation, cultures and genes, mind and body … help us to imagine a world in which we really change and yet really remain the same thing.”

A useful link, perhaps from building utopia, to dreaming it.

From ‘Shape and Story’

Image= Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse, a Pre-Raphaelite Painter

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